She was driving her junky 2001 Ford Mustang down Interstate 5 toward Southern California — to “Hollywood” — on her way to live out her dreams as a famous screenwriter. She envisioned a glitzy, glamorous place like the one she saw on television in the reality show “The Hills.”
On subsequent trips over the Grapevine, her clunker of a sports car would overheat as she climbed the grade. Luckily on this drive, if there was trouble, her family was in tow, carrying some of her belongings in her mom’s Toyota Camry to a dorm room at California State University, Northridge.
Another motorist would smack into her mom’s car as the family unloaded belongings into her dorm, a sign, perhaps, that she should turn back for home. Her parents knew better — their daughter was only feeling uneasy about being alone for the first time in her life, no family nearby to help if there was trouble.
Castaic resident Kelly Fabiano, now 37 years old, had at one time hoped that, after receiving a film degree from CSUN, she’d get a job in the film industry and eventually win Oscars for her writing. Instead, she’d come to find a new love, working as an end-of-life doula or what’s called a “death doula.” But that would come in time.
“One of my friends moved from Northern California down to L.A., and her experience was very much like ‘The Hills,’” Fabiano told The Signal during a phone interview. “I mean, she’s drop-dead gorgeous. But she just always found the ‘right people’ and made the ‘right connections.’ That wasn’t me. I was so awkward in that scene.”
Born in Downers Grove, Illinois, Fabiano, at age 9, moved to the small Northern California city of Tracy. Her dad’s job took the family there. Fabiano was thrilled. She thought anywhere in California was “Tinseltown.” At 9, she dreamed of being a movie star. The city of Tracy, then, would be where she’d meet child movie and TV star Jonathan Taylor Thomas, and where she’d become famous.
But it’d take more than just the location to accomplish her goals, not to mention the fact that the city of Tracy was not Hollywood. Fabiano would receive a film degree and then secure a position as an assistant in production finance. This was her shot in the business, she thought.
“I actually found that I had a knack for production finance,” she said, “and it was something I was really good at.”
She worked at various studios over the years and moved her way up in the field of production finance.
“It just wasn’t something that I loved,” she admitted. “I mean, I love being good at things — it’s great for the ego — but it just wasn’t very fulfilling.”
Getting married and having two sons, now ages 4 and 7, made her dilemma even more apparent. She was commuting three hours daily between the Santa Clarita Valley and Studio City, five days a week, and she wasn’t spending much time with her family at all.
Fabiano also experienced postpartum anxiety after the birth of her second son. To deal with it, she checked into a mental health facility. A little over a year after conquering that, on came the global pandemic.
“I think when COVID hit,” she said, “a lot of people looked inward and took stock of their lives. Mine wasn’t shaping up to be something I was proud of. Something had to give, and it couldn’t be my children and it couldn’t be me. So, it was the career. It had to be the career.”
Fabiano had been thinking about the help she received for her postpartum anxiety. She’d also just learned about end-of-life doulas — death doulas, as she learned they were called. She dug deeper into the position and before she knew it, she was signing up for training.
She enrolled in two classes — the death doula class and also a class that taught her how to be a life coach, which she thought was more practical and where more money could be made. She’d eventually specialize in coaching moms, as she understood the struggle moms face.
“I think it’s that societal expectation that moms have to be able to do all things and do them well,” she said. “And there’s really no room for you. When you become a mom, it’s, ‘I have my career and I have my children, and that’s it until they leave the nest.’”
Upon completing the death doula training in April 2021, Fabiano immediately began her life-coach training. She finished that in October 2021.
Then she got to work, using her finance experience and know-how to start her own business, which she called Life and Death with Kelly.
“It’s really taking some of this labor off the shoulders of caregivers who are usually stretched quite thin throughout the process,” she said. “It’s a lot to take on.”
Fabiano said she understood that process. In 2014, before she became a death doula, she took care of her dad at the end of his life.
“It was emotionally and physically taxing,” she said. “And so, if you can have someone in there, supporting you along the way, it really can make a difference.”
A death doula, she defined, is someone who provides holistic, non-medical support to those who are dying and their care community.
“I walk the dying and their family through end-of-life every step of the way,” she said. “I provide any type of non-medical support, whether that be emotional support, legacy support, any coaching or, if the family is religious, bringing religion or spirituality into the process — really just guiding them and holding their hands every step of the way. And I’m as involved as the client wishes me to be.”
Fabiano said she helps in three different ways. The first way is offering information and support to those approaching the end.
“It’s education on what our options are for end-of-life,” she said. “It’s also about working with our fears around dying, and facing those fears, and making empowered decisions as to what we want to happen while we’re dying. It’s everything from the small logistics or experiential logistics as far as, ‘Who do we want in the room?’ ‘Who don’t we want in the room?’ ‘Do we want a certain type of music playing?’ ‘What do we want the environment to look like?’ to ‘Where do I want to be buried?’ ‘Do I have a living trust?’ and ‘Where are all my passwords stored?’”
The second way Fabiano helps those dealing with death is helping during the time of death.
“It can be anything from, ‘I’ve received a diagnosis, and I have a year to live,’ ‘a week to live,’ however long, but, ‘I want you to be there to support me through this,’” she said.
The third way Fabiano helps those dealing with death is dealing with the aftermath of it all. And while she admitted that she’s not a funeral planner or a crematorium, she can point caregivers in the right direction or just be there for them in their difficult time.
One thing to think about, Fabiano added, is that the end-of-life process doesn’t have to be something one just has to survive.
“It can be something that you experience,” she offered. “I know that sounds kind of off-putting — to ‘experience’ end-of-life or ‘experience’ death, but there really is room for joy and laughter.”
She shared an example of what she was talking about. She once helped someone and his family come up with a “dream list” — things he and his loved ones could do to make “this piece of his life as fulfilling as possible.”
“This doesn’t have to be something that you rush through,” she said. “You can really take the time to experience it. And you deserve that. I really think it does everyone a service to have someone supporting them through this and experiencing the end-of-life journey that their loved one is on.”
And while Fabiano never wrote that Oscar-winning screenplay she dreamed of when she was younger, she said her work as a death doula and coach for moms is something she loves doing more than anything she’s ever loved doing before. And it’s interesting, she said, that in reflecting on life, she found that what she’s currently doing does, in fact, tie into her affinity for storytelling.
“I’ve always had such a deep respect for my elders and for their stories, their love stories, their learned experiences,” she said. “And that’s what drew me to writing and to film. It’s those experiences that unify us, that bring us together. I feel like in this work, I hear the most incredible love stories and I get to witness the most incredible lived experiences. It’s such an honor. It’s beyond anything I could’ve possibly written myself.”
Like the writer who has the ability to move an audience emotionally, Fabiano, as a death doula and life coach for moms, is doing just that, and then some. She offers the much-needed care and support to those in need during what could be their darkest hour. She said she’s very proud of that.
For more information about what Fabiano does, go to her website at TillDeathDoulaParts.com.